1034 Mitchella repensCommon Names: partridge berry, twinberry, twinflower, running box Family: Rubiaceae (madder Family)
Partridge berry is a ground hugging vinelike perennial herb that forms a mat of evergreen leaves under the shade of shrubs and trees, especially oaks. The stems of partridge berry creep along the ground, rooting at the nodes. They bear opposite, shiny dark green leaves with white veins. The pretty leaves are only about 3/4 in (2 cm) long. The plants never get more than 2 in (5 cm) tall, but the trailing stems may exceed a foot (30 cm) or more in length. Fragrant funnel shaped pinkish white flowers are borne in pairs in summer and soon give rise to spherical fire engine-red berries about a half inch (1.5 cm) in diameter. The berries are edible, but rather insipid. A naturally occurring form with white berries is called M. repens f. leucocarpa.
Partridge berry (Mitchella repens) occurs in woodlands throughout most of the eastern United States. A related species occurs in Japan.
CulturePartridge berry grows best on acidic soils under trees and large shrubs. Light: Partridge berry grows in dappled to partial shade. Moisture: As might be expected of a plant that is native to most of eastern North America, partridge berry is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions from moist to quite dry. Established plantings are drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Propagation: Rooted stems can be separated and replanted. Seeds should be planted in a cold frame in autumn.
Partridge berry, with its very ornamental foliage, makes an excellent groundcover under trees and shrubs. If there's a shady wooded area in your eastern North American garden, you probably already have partridge berry! Partridge berry is well suited to the rock garden and in terraria. Try growing it in a hanging pot in bright, but not direct, light. The flowers, white with a pinkish cast, are fragrant, but you have to get pretty close to enjoy them!
Native Americans, including Cherokee, Abnaki, Chippewa, Delaware, Menominee, Ojibwa, Iroquois and others, used partridge berry for all kinds of medicinal purposes, including relief from menstrual cramps, sore nipples, rheumatism, dysentery, fever, kidney disorders, and many other ailments
An interesting feature of the partridge berry fruit (actually a berry-like drupe) is that it develops from two flowers following the fusion of two ovaries. Thus, although the flowers are four-merous (4 stamens, 4 petal lobes, 4 stigmas, calyx with 4 teeth, etc.), the fruits have 8 seeds.
Steve Christman 11/6/06; updated 1/20/07